Mahbanoozadeh proves he’s latest U.S. sensation

By Brandon Penny
Special to Figure Skaters Online
 

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It means “born from a lady as beautiful as the moon” in Persian.  It is pronounced almost exactly as it is spelled: Mah-ba-noo-za-day.  And figure skating fans better get used to saying it.

Armin (pronounced: Ar-meen) Mahbanoozadeh proved he is an international contender after earning bronze at Skate America this November, in only his second season as a senior.

Mahbanoozadeh set new personal best ISU scores at Skate America, with 67.61 points for his short program, 143.56 for his free skate and a combined total of 211.17.  The Grand Prix event also marked the first time the 19-year-old received a standing ovation.

“When I finished I was more surprised than anything else that the audience was standing,” Mahbanoozadeh said.  “I was very surprised and I was very thankful for the audience being so supportive through the program.”

Priscilla Hill, who has been coaching Mahbanoozadeh since the end of last season, said the goal was for him to skate two clean programs and focus on his skills rather than placement.  Naturally, the results followed.

Last year, Mahbanoozadeh finished ninth and 11th at his Grand Prix assignments and eighth at the 2010 U.S. Championships.  But as a junior, he had won two Junior Grand Prix events and finished second at the 2008 Junior Grand Prix Final.  So why did he have such a poor senior debut?

“I was overcoming injuries almost all year,” Mahbanoozadeh said.  “I was changing coaches and moving from home… Nothing was stable for me last year.

“This year everything’s more stable.  I have a routine and I’m able to really make the most of my time on the ice and I think the training helped when it came time for the competition.”

Much of his improvement this season can be attributed to being coached by Hill.  Before she started working with him last year, she had been watching him for years because her other students competed against him nationally and internationally.

Hill had always admired Mahbanoozadeh’s skating from afar – she could tell he had the complete package.

“He’s very smart and he has a great natural ability in coverage of the ice,” Hill said.  “He’s good at jumping, spinning and skating, which is a huge thing in our sport to be able to do all of it well and I think that he brings me back a little bit to when I worked with Johnny [Weir] and he was very good at many things in the sport, which is an advantage.”

In preparation for this season, Hill had Mahbanoozadeh focus on taking charge of his own skating and deciding what direction he wanted to go with it.  She helped him mature on and off the ice – something that has shown in his performances this season.

His growth on the ice included the decision to cut his own music for both programs.  His choice: short program to “Mario Takes a Walk Prelude” by Jesse Cook and free skate to music from the Avatar movie soundtrack, composed by James Horner.

“I wanted to have something a little more exotic this year, so that was the first idea that came into mind, because I felt like I’d been skating to a lot of classical music recently,” Mahbanoozadeh said.  “After I saw Avatar, I was like, ‘The music is pretty cool, it’s new, everyone would know what it was,’ so I thought that would be a good choice.

“I’m really into the music selection process and I feel like when I cut my music I’m able to connect to it more.”

Mahbanoozadeh will now take both programs, as well as his Avatar-inspired costume, to his next competition: 2011 U.S. Championships in Greensboro, N.C., Jan. 22-30, with the goal of making the World Championship team.

Hill and Mahbanoozadeh are working on strengthening the end of the free skate program, upgrading the spins in both programs, adding a quadruple toe to the free skate and securing two clean, solid programs once again.

Medaling in Greensboro will be tough for Mahbanoozadeh, since he is one of four American men who medaled on the Grand Prix circuit this season.  The others are Jeremy Abbott (silver at NHK Trophy, bronze at Cup of Russia), Brandon Mroz (silver at Cup of China, bronze at Trophée Eric Bompard) and Adam Rippon (bronze at Skate Canada).

“There’s a lot of good guys right now,” Hill said.  “I think he’s definitely one of the top ones in our country, but there’s probably about six or so that are all within a certain range.  It comes down to who does their job for short and for long.  Two solid programs are going to be a big advantage at Nationals.”

Mahbanoozadeh believes it is definitely possible for him to top his Skate America scores at nationals and earn a spot at the Worlds.

“It’s gonna be tough but I think I have good programs this year, I believe in my programs this year and I think the judges like my programs so all I need to do is skate well and hopefully the placement will follow,” he said.

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Photo courtesy of Leah Adams

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